2023 – Vanity Fair
July 24, 2023
So you’ve seen Barbie. That also means you’ve experienced America Ferrera’s epic monologue, which somehow captures every contradictory demand put on women in modern society. The audience at the Los Angeles premiere of the film broke out into cheers after her character, Gloria, completed it. “To be able to hear audiences connecting to it in that way with a response like that is amazing,” says Ferrera, who spoke to Vanity Fair two days after the LA premiere and the day before the SAG-AFTRA strike began. “It worked on the page, and so I definitely wanted to give that feeling to the audience as the person performing it—to make it resonate the way that it did with me when I read the words on the page.”
In Barbie, Ferrera plays Gloria, a Mattel employee who meets a life-size Barbie (Margot Robbie) that has stumbled into the real world. Gloria and her teenage daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) end up going back to Barbie Land with Barbie, only to discover—spoiler alert!—that the Barbies have been brainwashed into turning their feminist home into a patriarchy run by the Kens.
In a moment of deep frustration, Gloria launches into an epic speech about the demands placed on women to be all things to all people, and be grateful at all times. It’s a speech for the ages, and Ferrera delivers it with a perfect balance of confidence, frustration, and passion. She spoke with Vanity Fair about what it took to strike the right tone for that moment, and how Gloria and her daughter’s relationship is the heart at the center of Barbie’s colorful, quirky story.
Vanity Fair: What were your first impressions of the Barbie script?
America Ferrera: I was just so taken by the fact that Greta chose to make an adult woman’s perspective factor in in a big way. I think when we think of Barbie and who has a relationship to Barbie, we think of young children playing with toys and not necessarily the adults they grow up to become. So many of our thoughts and ideas about Barbie, positive or negative, that we project onto it are about that long-term influence that we imagine her having on the culture. I was just really excited that there was room in the story for that perspective of an adult woman navigating womanhood in the real world, and also feeling connected to what Barbie stands for. And, in a way, trying to find the permission to keep loving it.
How did you work with Greta to develop the dynamic between Gloria and her daughter?
I remember a conversation with Greta and Noah [Baumbach, the film’s cowriter] early on, a very early conversation about Gloria and what this journey is for her. She and Noah really thought that her relationship with Sasha was the heart of why she needed this escapism and this journey, that her connection to her daughter was permission to play and be imaginative and love and play in a childlike world. As her daughter grows and pulls away from that, not only is Gloria losing a certain connection with her daughter, but she’s also losing her connection to what her daughter’s childhood gave her access to.
What did you first think when you read the monologue you’d have to recite?
It’s one of the first things Greta mentioned to me even before I read the script. She said, “I wrote this monologue for Gloria, and I’ve always imagined you saying this.” While that was flattering, it also felt like pressure in the nicest way. I read the monologue and it hit me as powerful and meaningful. It also felt like, wow, what a gift as an actor to get to deliver something that feels so cathartic and truthful. But it also felt like this pivotal moment that I obviously didn’t want to mess up. There was a little bit of healthy pressure around it.
Were there changes or tweaks made to it ahead of shooting as you guys talked it over?
There wasn’t that much to talk about because what she had written on the page just felt very true. But what I do remember is that we would share with each other articles, or episodes of TV shows, or podcasts that felt like this sentiment—the sentiment that Gloria delivers in the monologue, which is essentially the impossible assignment of being all things to all people. I did see the same sentiment all around, and we would share those pieces with each other.
I think for me, when it came time to shoot it, my big question was, “okay, so how are we playing this? Am I playing this slightly humorously? Am I trying to deliver it in a tone that still fits into the tone of Barbie Land?” I was a bit surprised when Greta really pushed me to be as real and grounded as possible and not make it feel like it’s the truth, but it’s Barbie Land pink truth. It was interesting that I initially felt that we wouldn’t just go as straightforward and real with it as we did, that I assumed that there might be a tone that maybe made it, I don’t know, I guess easier for people to hear or to swallow. Greta really didn’t want that. She wanted it to just sound like the truth.
What was the actual shoot like for the monologue?
We shot it over two days. It’s one part of a much bigger scene with lots of characters in it. I had to do it many, many times for other people’s coverage and to get through the whole scene and over the course of two days. But she gave me so much freedom with it. There were moments in shooting the movie where Greta really had written something in a very specific way that she heard a very specific way in her head with particular cadence in a particular speed or a particular inflection. I thought maybe this would be like that, but it was the opposite. She wanted me to completely make it my own and find it as we did it.
How many takes are we talking about over two days?
It felt like 500. I’m sure it wasn’t. It was probably 30 to 50 full runs of it, top to bottom. By the end, Ariana recited the monologue to me because she had memorized it because that’s how many times I had said it.
How do you gear yourself up for a scene like that?
I have my own prep and process as an actor on any day to drop in and be in an open place where I’m exploring and having fun. I think that part of it was — this was also based on Greta’s direction — neither one of us went into it feeling like it’s got to grow and crescendo to this big moment where you burst into tears or you’re laughing so hard you cry. There were no targets to hit. It was much more a moment-to-moment drop in. Truly, every take was very different. There were takes that leaned into anger. There were takes that leaned into laughter. It really did, over the course of filming, find a shape. It was about just staying as present in the moment and just seeing really where the words would take it.
Do you have a favorite line from it?
One thing that Greta and I added together to it was the “always be grateful” line, which came out of a conversation that we had: this internalized feeling that we’re lucky to be here. But it really is of a piece and I think it compounds. The longer it goes, the more meaning it has because it is truly endless, the list of targets and expectations.
Was there any other scene that you’re really proud of how it turned out?
One of the scenes I loved filming and I love in the movie was one that Greta and I worked on, which was the scene in the Barbie convertible with the mother/daughter. That moment where Gloria’s given up and it’s Sasha who tells her that she has to fight for the thing that she believes in. We did spend a lot of time tweaking that scene to get to the place of, what is this for Gloria? In this moment, what is it that she’s here for? What does she need to get from this journey?
Truthfully, the beauty of her daughter saying to her, “I see you, even the parts of you that you don’t want me to see. I see them and they’re actually the parts that I love about you,” was something so beautiful to find in that relationship. In that moment, Sasha was mothering her mother and telling her, “It’s okay to be these things that you think you have to hide, and I see them about you and I love them about you.” For Gloria, hearing that from her own daughter, who I think she desperately wants to feel connected to and be seen by, is a really important moment for her.